“The wind blows where it wants to. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. That’s the way it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 (ISV)
This past weekend we did our annual men’s sailing retreat in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior out of Bayfield, Wisconsin. It was a blast. Our two boats loaded with groceries, gear and 13 eager sailors enjoyed a slice of heaven. The weather was amazing with warm sun-kissed days, cool, bug-free nights and most importantly at least one day of steady strong winds. Very gentle breezes on Saturday required motoring but as always the scenery was soul renewing with the lake’s clear blue waters washing ashore on crescent sand beaches and verdant tree lined shores.
We anchored for lunch in Big Bay on the east side of Madeline Island where many of us also enjoyed a refreshing swim from our respective boats. Later in the afternoon we also stopped at Michigan Island. We ferried guys ashore in our dinghies and climbed the 128 steps to the top of the bluff to explore the two lighthouses there. A park service ranger gave us all a tour and another 132 step climb to the top of the highest lighthouse rewarded us with stunning views of many of the islands to the West and the Porcupine Mountains of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the East.
Saturday evening we anchored at Stockton Island in Julian Bay with arguably the most beautiful sand beach in the islands. A number of the guys jumped ship for another heart shocking swim and then all of us ate grilled steaks and fried potatoes to our hearts content. The evening was capped off as we gathered on one of the boats under the light of a full moon for worship, discussion of the Apostle Paul’s sailing adventure in Acts 27 and prayer. It was the perfect end to an awesome day.
The next morning we awoke to an increasing southwest wind blowing across our bow. To a sailor nothing compares to the sound of the wind whistling in the rigging and feel of the wind on your face. The eggs and bacon had not even settled in our stomachs before we were ready to pull up the anchor and hoist the sails. After all, this is what we all had come for, the adventure of being propelled through the water on wind power alone.
Since the wind was coming directly from our desired destination on the mainland of the Bayfield Peninsula it meant we would be required to do a lot of tacking to make headway the approximately 18 miles back to Pikes Bay harbor. But ahhh… that is what makes sailing so challenging and exhilarating. It was glorious, all five hours of it, cutting angles through the waves in 10-15 knot winds while steadily making our way back home.
One of the reasons I love sailing so much is its analogy to God’s leading in our lives. The principles in responding to the wind are very much like the ways in which God wants to teach us to respond to the Holy Spirit. It is significant that both the Hebrew and Greek words for Spirit, ruach and pneuma, both mean wind or breath as well as spirit. In John 3:8 quoted above, Jesus even draws the direct analogy between the two – wind and Spirit.
For the sailor at the helm of the boat, the two most important things he must always know are 1) Which way is the wind blowing? and 2) How should I then respond? – in terms of choosing a point of sail and trimming the sails? Those two questions are essentially the same things every believer must constantly be asking and seeking answers for as well. 1) What is God the Holy Spirit saying to me? and 2) What does He expect me to do in response or what do I do about it?
Like harnessing the wind in sailing, being able to discern and respond to the wind of the Holy Spirit takes practice. Identifying the wind direction in sailing in part comes by its feel on the face and hair and also by seeing its effects on things, like the waves, trees, other boats etc. Instruments when available are also helpful. Identifying the moving of the Holy Spirit isn’t always that easy. Sometimes it is by feel, inwardly in ones mind or heart, as faint as an impression or thought, or as unmistakable as a vision or voice. Sometimes we can recognize the Spirit’s movement by seeing His effect on other people, circumstances and encounters that we have.
But that is only half of it. As in sailing, the key to moving ahead in God is in knowing how to respond. That takes faith, a timely response and obedience, perseverance and a flexibility to change course whenever it is required. Following the leading of the Holy Spirit however, unlike sailing, is more an art than a science. There is a mystery and unpredictability to the Holy Spirit that eclipses even the wind. That is why it takes the cultivation of increased sensitivity to His gentle whispers and a willingness to act and adapt at a moments notice.
I came away from our weekend enriched in both soul and spirit. Most importantly I learned some more about God the Holy Spirit’s amazing way of working in men’s lives through the shared experience of life on board a sailboat where the wind of the Holy Spirit is even more important than the wind at sea.
For photos here is a link to Ed Zech’s Facebook photo album: Sailing the Apostle Islands II
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